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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoporosis

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, a disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. When someone has rheumatoid arthritis, the membranes around his or her joints become inflamed and release enzymes that cause the surrounding cartilage and bone to wear away. In severe cases, other tissues and body organs also can be affected.

Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis often experience pain, swelling, and stiffness in their joints, especially those in the hands and feet. Motion can be limited in the affected joints, curtailing one’s ability to accomplish even the most basic everyday tasks. About one-quarter of those with rheumatoid arthritis develop nodules (bumps) that grow under the skin, usually close to the joints. Fatigue, anemia (low red blood cell count), neck pain, and dry eyes and mouth can also occur in individuals with the disease.

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, it is estimated that about 2.1 million people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis. The disease occurs in all racial and ethnic groups, but affects two to three times as many women as men. Rheumatoid arthritis is more commonly found in older individuals, although the disease typically begins in middle age. Children and young adults can also be affected.

What Is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis occurs in children 16 years of age or younger. Children with severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may be candidates for glucocorticoid medication, the use of which has been linked to bone loss in children as well as adults. Physical activity can be challenging in children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, since it may cause pain. Incorporating physical activities recommended by the child’s doctor and a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D are especially important, so that these children can build adequate bone mass and reduce the risk of future fracture.

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